While nothing is really black and white in this world, and many accepted theories of yesterday are no more valid today and many accepted theories of today will not be valid forever, one thing is clear, that in order to have a just society we need to respect every and each human being. This is not a theory, but a fundamental human value.
Maybe some of the readers can bring more information about this issue, but I think (I don't remember it very well any more) we had a theory in our Iranian school textbooks during the Pahlavi regime saying that the inhabitants of Azerbaijan (the Iranian side) are Aryans (the racial word for describing Iranians, or that was the intended, or perceived, purpose of the usage) who have been "linguistically" Turkified, to use the exact term. I doubt they still have this in today's IRI textbooks (maybe they do), but I have been quite amazed to find it in many places on the Internet, also on Wikipedia, about issues relating to Iranians, where Iranian editors have been very actively pursuing, and trying to prove, this theory. I have some serious problems with this theory's validity, and also a more serious problem about the reasons behind the active propagation of it, in the past and today.
Please bear with me for the following short personal presentation of the issue and in case you have anything against my view then please comment with your opinion. I have done quite a lot of research about this theory and others and there isn't really some unbiased and truly scientific conclusion out there, so all I can write is going to be an unscientific personal view or presentation.
It seems very likely to me that Turkic peoples migrated from Asia to the Middle East at some point in time. Views differ on this too and some, even within some academic circles, have said that Turkic people resided in the Middle East for thousands of years. However there is more evidence to the opposite from historical writings suggesting that the majority of the population of north-western Iranian plateau and Anatolia were non-Turkic peoples probably up until about 1,000 years ago or so, though Turkic peoples may very well have coexisted among others in the region, though in smaller numbers and usually within nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes.
Turkic speaking nations of central Asia are mostly Asiatic while Tajiks, who also live in central Asia, are mostly Caucasian. Well, there are mixes here and there, also in Afghanistan, where some Caucasian-looking people speak a Turkic language (Uzbek or Turkmen for instance) or some Asiatic-looking people speak Tajik Persian. I think it is scientifically reasonable to say that it is at least more likely that the origins of the Turkic peoples (or Oghuz people) are in Asia and they all used to look like Asians some time ago. This is not the case today, as Turks of Turkey, Azeri Turks in Iran and Azerbaijan, and Turcomans of Iraq are very large Turkic communities who look nothing but Caucasian.
How did this happen? It is probably quite simple to say that Turks, just like Huns (ancestors of today's Hungary), massively migrated to Caucasian-populated areas in the Middle East and intermarriages over time created distinct populations who did not look like their cultural (and to some degree genetic) ancestors any more. The languages, folklore, traditions and customs, that these Asiatic tribes brought along, survived to some extent, while their looks changed. This idea is something quite reasonable. When all this happened? That is something vague though.
Turkic peoples originally used to live more to the north, most likely in central Asia. Then they started to move south and west. We know that about 1,000 years ago Turks both in the Iranian plateau and Anatolia were already so strong they actually ruled most of these areas. They could not have been so few in numbers at that time. However it is likely that they were not completely racially mixed (they were both Asiatic-looking and Caucasian-looking) with the local populations yet.
For racial and nationalistic purposes, many Iranian circles, have tried to show that the Turkification of Azerbaijan is something as recent as 200-500 years ago, which is absurd. People do not change so quickly, neither culturally nor physically. And also saying that Azeri Turks are (using the present verbal form) Aryans (whatever it may mean) who have been (even probably by force) linguistically Turkified by the ruling Turks is even more absurd. North of the Araxes river was lost to Russia some 190 years ago and the language shared among the Azeri populations of Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan has not changed so much. They understand each other perfectly.
I found something amazing about the two sides of the border that may be very important from a historical and linguistic point of view. The number 80 is pronounced Hashtad in Persian, while its Turkic version is 'seksen' (or saksan). Original and correct Azeri language is supposed to used 'seksen' which is also more often used in Azeri writing in the Republic of Azerbaijan. However ordinary Azeris, not just in Iran but also in the north, do not use 'seksen' but 'hashtad'. This number has entered Azeri language from Persian while there is no other non-Turkic number used in Azeri language except for zero (sifir, which is of Arabic origin). And it has entered the Azeri language before the Caucasus was lost to Russia. Ever since there has been no significant or fundamental change to the language other than the new words that are used for things, or statements, which have been discovered, adopted, or invented recently.
So, despite having been under completely different conditions the original language has stayed about the same, which shows how long it actually takes for a language to change. Although there are dialects of the same language both in Iran and in the Republic of Azerbaijan, the differences in the dialects have existed even before the separation, as Shirvani dialect (predominant in Azerbaijan) of Azeri language has been one of the most important dialects, along Tabrizi (predominant in Iran) far earlier than the separation of the Caucasus from the Qajar Empire.
Almost two centuries of living under completely different circumstances has not been able to change almost anything seriously (linguistically and culturally speaking) while it is theorised that it could have been possible to impose a language and do it so well to a large population of 500 years ago and succeed in it in such an amazing manner (totally annihilating the previous language) without using any techniques such as compulsory schooling?! So, it seems that the only purpose of saying that the population of Azerbaijan spoke any other language up until about 200 years ago is simply too much close to fantasy than reality or science.
While Arabs were unable to change the local languages of Iran even though they did try to impose Arabic on Iranians for hundreds of years how could have Turks done it in Azerbaijan in such a short period of time and so well? How could they have also done so well also in Anatolia? And there is of course no evidence about this because Turkic peoples did not have an advanced writing (we can say that because they were mostly nomadic they had no writing), and they more often used Arabic or Persian writings than their own language, though writings have appeared from some 800 years ago or so in Turkic, in the Middle East.
There was also no schooling in Azerbaijani or Anatolian Turkish, to be used for forcing their languages on the local Caucasian populations. And even this policy has failed to impose Persian on non-Persians of modern Iran. And if there was any forcing, history has shown that such methods usually don't work. Look at Iran itself where there have been direct policies of Persian assimilation for more than 80 years already with almost no success in most Iranian regions. However many Azeri Turks who have migrated to mostly Persian areas have willingly Persianised due to their numerical inferiority.
The only real and plausible possibility (why Azerbaijan's original population turned Turkic) is that large numerous Turkic tribes that moved to the Middle East settled in various areas, married locals, but probably due to superior numbers in Azerbaijan (north-west of Iran, and the Caucasus) and also Anatolia, little by little absorbed many smaller populations of those regions and hence we have accidentally come up with two predominant modern languages of the Turkic peoples, Azeri Turkish, and Anatolian Turkish. This trend has been continuous until very recently and as we know areas such as Astara (and south of Astara) in Iran are no more Talysh as they used to be some 200-300 years ago because the original Talysh population has been absorbed into the migrating more numerous Azeri Turk population.
This whole process must have taken many hundreds of years. And the process must have been a finished natural success already some 500-700 years ago when local Turks (no more from central Asia) ruled both Anatolia and the Iranian plateau. Iranian Turkic rulers of 500 years ago onwards, the Safavid, Afshar, and the Qajar did not look like Asians at all. They were already established Caucasian-looking people who spoke Azerbaijani, or similar, Turkish, just like other Turks within the Iranian plateau.
But how did a Turkic language replace an Iranic language in the north-western areas of the Iranian plateau is something that for political purposes has lost its scientific purposes within the Iranian community and has turned into a political tool to create racially-based false bonds between peoples who have already had cultural and religious bonds strong enough to keep them united. Azeri Turks have not been Turkified by force or any other means. They are most probably the descendants of migrant Oghuz Turks who have mixed with the local populations and their Turkic language has turned out to become the predominant language of the area because of their sheer numbers, just like in Hungary or Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). And as it is simple and obvious they (in Turkey, Iran and Azerbaijan) are a genetic mix of Asiatic Oghuz Turks and Caucasian indigenous peoples who lived in those areas.
The second issue is why do we need to propagate such dodgy theories anyway? What is wrong about being of one race or background or the other anyway, if that was the case? England is a modern prosperous state whose inhabitants are mostly the descendants of some nomadic barbarians as they were considered by the Romans. And look at them now, and compare Manchester to Napoly! Japanese people are from Asia, while Albanians are some of the oldest of European Caucasians. Where is Japan and where is Albania!? When did Iranians and Iranian peoples needed theories to become united anyway? They were already united and strong in their traditions and beliefs when these theories started to appear almost a century ago.
I am no scientist, and these have been my personal observations. And I doubt you actually need to be a scientist to realise that it is extremely dodgy and implausible to impose a language on a people especially with the possibilities and conditions that were available hundreds of years ago. And there is no evidence of such an act anyway. While it is known that Arabs did not really tolerate any language but their own, and they failed to impose Arabic on Iranians!
And even with today's possibilities it is nearly impossible to impose a language on a people. So the most probable cause of the Turkification of Azerbaijan is migration, as it has happened throughout history so many times to so many peoples and places. Mass migrations can bring huge changes, just like it has done to Britain, and of course the American continent much later, where due to mass migration from Europe local indigenous peoples almost disappeared (absorbed by more numerous Europeans) in many areas, especially in many American states.
Let's hope that a future more free and more democratic Iran will have more respect toward its own peoples, their distinct realities, customs and languages! This also goes for some Iranians who still believe in dodgy theories that may also be insulting to other peoples.
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